I passed by the street that my best friend Carol* grew up on last week. In the years since she lived there, not much has changed. The brightly lit auto part shop, the pizza parlor with the combo gumball/pinball machine, and the dress shop that Carol’s mom insisted was a drug front are all still there. I’ve known Carol all of my life. I can’t even remember our first meeting. There was no time before Carol.
Walking past that street gave me both a happy and dreading feeling. My good memories of that house like birthday parties, when her little brother and sister came home for the first time, watching A League of Their Own a million times, and playing Barbies in her bedroom are all overshadowed by the day that Carol crawled into the lower part of her trundle bed where I was sleeping and told me that her step father, Benjamin, was “coming into her room at night”. I was 10 and she was 11.
I can’t remember if I immediately knew what she meant or if she had to explain but I do remember crying so hard that she had to beg me to be quiet so we wouldn't wake anyone. He said he would kill her, her mom, her brother, and her sister if she told anyone. Her siblings were his kids and Angelina was just a baby at the time. Benjamin Jr. not much older than her. At that moment, I became acutely aware of the shotgun and baseball bat that were always under Benjamin and Carol’s mother’s bed. Carol made me swear that I wouldn’t tell. We were both scared and I promised I wouldn't. Her mom laughed at us when she found us smashed together on that twin bed in the morning.
I never really knew Benjamin that well. He didn’t speak very good English and my Spanish is deplorable so communication was difficult. I was the ring bearer in the winter wedding that took place in their house. A picture of me from the event, smiling in a red and white velvet dress is still in my parents’ bedroom.
I didn’t stop going over the house; in fact, I went more, thinking I could protect Carol. It worked somewhat. He never came in her room when I was there. He barely looked at her when I was there. When I couldn’t be there, Carol would call me and say, “It happened again.” And we would cry together.
I tried to keep my promise but in my school, 6th graders have a fairly intense sex education program that includes “bad touching”. While reading about rape and molestation, I started to cry and my teacher pulled me out of class. I told her that I saw a former classmate on the street and she told me that her father was raping her. I’m 11 at this point and not really a savvy liar so my teacher realized I was lying but understandably thought that my father was assaulting me. It took months of horrible meetings to clear it up.
Carol and I eventually grew apart. I was a nerd and she was not. We both were angry at each other for not staying friends but then also couldn’t really be friends. Our mothers asked us why and neither of us had a really good explanation. Carol’s mother and Benjamin also grew apart and divorced. Carol was safe from him but not safe from the suffering that we survivors go through. I also became a victim of sexual assault but from a partner. Another secret I kept.
When I was 16, my mother received a call. I heard her shouting and she finally called for me. With wide eyes, she handed me the phone. It was Carol’s mom who slowly asked me, “Did Benjamin have sex with Carol? Did he rape her?” And I said yes. Apparently, during a fight between them, Carol had blurted out what happened. Her mother, didn’t believe her and Carol told her ask me. We were still in our fight and was "a good kid" If I said yes, she’d have to believe her. The cops were on their way to their house. My mother put me in the car and drove over there so I could make statement. Silence times silence is how quiet the car was.
Benjamin was arrested and put on trial. I had to testify against him. They said that I was a secondary witness and important to the case since I was the only person Carol told and I was told right when it was happening. I wept on the stand. For Carol and for me. Carol didn't cry at all even though he was right there. Benjamin was deported to Cuba. He isn’t allowed to contact his two children. They haven’t seen him since. Carol has two girls now. We haven't spoken since the trial in 2001.
*The names are all changed.